Preservation and Celebration of the Parker Family History & Genealogy
Matthew Parker (6 August 1504 – 17 May 1575) was Archbishop of Canterbury from 1559 until his death in 1575. He was also an influential theologian and arguably the co-founder (with Cranmer"">Thomas Cranmer and Hooker"">Richard Hooker) of Anglican theological thought.
Parker was one of the primary architects of the Thirty-Nine Articles, the defining statements of Anglican doctrine. The Parker
collection of early English manuscripts, including the book of Augustine Gospels" class="mw-redirect"">St. Augustine Gospels and
Version A of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, was created
as part of his efforts to demonstrate that the English Church was
historically independent from Rome, creating one of the world's most
important collections of ancient manuscripts.
The eldest son of William Parker, he was born in Norwich, in St. Saviour's parish. His mother's maiden name was Alice Monins, and
she may have been related by marriage to Cranmer"">Thomas Cranmer. When William Parker died, in about 1516,
his widow married John Baker. Matthew was sent in 1522 to Corpus Christi College,
where he is said to have been contemporary with William
Cecil, but Cecil was only two years old at the time. Parker
graduated BA in 1525, was ordained deacon in April and priest in June
1527, and was elected fellow of Corpus in the following September. He
commenced MA in 1528, and was one of the Cambridge scholars whom Thomas
Wolsey wished to transplant to his newly founded "Cardinal College"
Parker, like Cranmer, declined the invitation. He had come under the influence of the Cambridge reformers, and after Anne
Boleyn's recognition as queen he was made her chaplain. Through
her, he was appointed dean of the college of canons" class="mw-redirect"">secular canons at Stoke-by-Clare in 1535. Hugh
Latimer wrote to him in that year urging him not to fall short of
the expectations which had been formed of his ability. In 1537 he was
appointed chaplain to King VIII of England"">Henry VIII. In 1538 he was threatened with
prosecution, but Richard Yngworth, the Dover"">Bishop of Dover, however, reported to Cromwell" class="mw-redirect"">Thomas Cromwell that Parker "hath ever
been of a good judgment and set forth the Word of God after a good
manner. For this he suffers some grudge." He graduated DD in that year,
and in 1541 was appointed to the second prebend
in the reconstituted cathedral church of Ely.
In 1544, on Henry VIII's recommendation, he was elected master of
Corpus Christi College, and in 1545 vice-chancellor of the university.
He got into some trouble with the chancellor, Gardiner"">Stephen Gardiner, over a ribald play, Pammachius,
performed by the students, which derided the old ecclesiastical system.
On the passing of the act of parliament in 1545 enabling the king to dissolve chantries
and colleges, Parker was appointed one of the commissioners for
Cambridge, and their report may have saved its colleges from
destruction. Stoke, however, was dissolved in the following reign, and
Parker received a generous pension. He took advantage of the new reign
to marry in June, 1547, before clerical marriages had been legalized by
parliament and convocation, Margaret, daughter of Robert Harlestone, a
Norfolk squire. During Rebellion"">Kett's Rebellion, he preached in the rebels' camp on
Mousehold Hill, without much effect, and later encouraged his secretary,
Alexander Neville, to write his
history of the rising.
Parker's association with Protestantism advanced with the times, and he received higher promotion under John Dudley, 1st Duke
of Northumberland than under the moderate Edward Seymour, 1st Duke
of Somerset. At Cambridge, he was a friend of Martin
Bucer and preached Bucer's funeral sermon in 1551. In 1552 he was
promoted to the rich deanery of England" class="mw-redirect"">Lincoln, and in July 1553 he supped
with Northumberland at Cambridge, when the duke marched north on his
hopeless campaign against the accession of England"">Mary Tudor. As a supporter of Northumberland and a married
man, under the new regime Parker was deprived of his deanery, his
mastership of Corpus Christi, and his other preferments. However, he
survived Mary's reign without leaving the country – a fact that probably
aggravated more ardent Protestants who went into exile and idealized
their fellows who were martyred by Queen Mary. Parker respected
authority, and when his time came he could consistently impose authority
on others. He was not eager to assume this task, and made great efforts
to avoid promotion to the archbishopric of Canterbury, which Elizabeth
designed for him as soon as she had succeeded to the throne.
He was elected on 1 August 1559 but, given the turbulence and executions that had preceded Elizabeth's accession, it was difficult to
find the requisite four bishops willing and qualified to consecrate
Parker, and not until December 19 was that ceremony performed at Lambeth
Barlow, formerly Bishop of Bath and Wells, John
Scory, formerly Bishop of Chichester, Coverdale" class="mw-redirect"">Miles Coverdale, formerly Bishop of
Exeter, and John Hodgkins, Bishop of Bedford. The
allegation of an indecent consecration in the Fable"">Nag's Head Fable seems first to have been made by the
Jesuit, Christopher Holywood, in 1604, and has
since been discredited. Parker's consecration was, however, legally
valid only by the plentitude of the royal supremacy; the Edwardine
Ordinal, which was used, had been repealed by Mary Tudor and not
re-enacted by the parliament of 1559. The Catholic Church" class="mw-redirect"">Roman Catholic Church asserted
that the form of consecration used was insufficient to make a bishop,
and therefore represented a break in the Apostolic Succession,
but the Church of England has rejected this,
arguing that the form of words used made no difference to the substance
or validity of the act.
Elizabeth wanted a moderate man, so she chose Parker. There was also an emotional attachment. Parker had been the favourite chaplain of
Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn. Before Anne was arrested in 1536,
she had entrusted Elizabeth's spiritual well-being to Parker. A few days
after this, Anne had been executed following charges of adultery,
incest and treason. Parker also possessed all the qualifications
Elizabeth expected from an archbishop except celibacy. He mistrusted
popular enthusiasm, and he wrote in horror of the idea that "the people"
should be the reformers of the Church. He was not an inspiring leader,
and no dogma, no prayer-book, not even a tract or a hymn is associated
with his name. The 56 volumes published by the Parker Society include
only one by its eponymous hero, and that is a volume of correspondence.
He was a disciplinarian, a scholar, a modest and moderate man of genuine
piety and irreproachable morals. His historical research was
exemplified in his De antiquitate ecclesiae, and his editions of Asser, Matthew
Paris, Thomas Walsingham, and the compiler known
as Matthew of Westminster; his
liturgical skill was shown in his version of the psalter
and in the occasional prayers and thanksgivings which he was called upon
to compose. He left a priceless collection of manuscripts, largely collected from former monastic libraries, to his college at Cambridge.
The Parker Library at
Corpus Christi bears his name and houses his collection. Parker
collaborated with his secretary John
Joscelyn in his manuscript studies.
Parker avoided involvement in secular politics and was never admitted to Elizabeth's privy council.
Ecclesiastical politics gave him considerable trouble. Some of the evangelical reformers wanted liturgical
changes and at least the option not to wear certain clerical vestments,
if not their complete prohibition. Early presbyterians wanted no bishops, and the
conservatives opposed all these changes, often preferring to move in the
opposite direction toward the practices of the Henrician church. The
queen herself begrudged episcopal privilege until she eventually
recognised it as one of the chief bulwarks of the royal supremacy. To
Parker's consternation, the queen refused to add her imprimatur to his
attempts to secure conformity, though she insisted that he achieve this
goal. Thus Parker was left to stem the rising tide of Puritan
feeling with little support from parliament, convocation or the Crown.
The bishops' Interpretations and Further Considerations, issued
in 1560, tolerated a lower vestiarian standard than was
prescribed by the rubric of 1559, but it fell short of the desires of
the anti-vestiarian clergy like Coverdale (one of the bishops who had
consecrated Parker) who made a public display of their nonconformity in
The Book of Advertisements, which Parker published in 1566, to check the anti-vestiarian faction, had to appear
without specific royal sanction; and the Reformatio legum
ecclesiasticarum, which John
Foxe published with Parker's approval, received neither royal,
parliamentary nor synodical authorization. Parliament even contested the
claim of the bishops to determine matters of faith. "Surely," said
Parker to Peter Wentworth, "you will refer yourselves
wholly to us therein." "No, by the faith I bear to God," retorted
Wentworth, "we will pass nothing before we understand what it is; for
that were but to make you popes. Make you popes who list, for we will
make you none." Disputes about vestments had expanded into a controversy
over the whole field of Church government and authority, and Parker
died on May 17, 1575, lamenting that Puritan ideas of "governance" would
"in conclusion undo the queen and all others that depended upon her."
By his personal conduct he had set an ideal example for Anglican
priests, and it was not his fault that national authority failed to
crush the individualistic tendencies of the Protestant Reformation.
|Church of England titles|
|Archbishop of Canterbury
|Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
|Vice-Chancellor of the University of Cambridge
|Master of Corpus Christi College, Cambridge
Matthew Parker's manuscript collection is mainly housed in the Parker Library at Corpus Christi College,
Cambridge with some volumes in the Cambridge University Library.
The Parker Library on the Web project
will make images of all of these manuscripts available online.